Cold and flu season is here and people are showing up for work sick

A relic of the pre-pandemic days is making a return to the workplace: the cold office.

You may remember being caught in his crosshairs – first, someone shows up coughing and sniffling, swearing that everything seems worse than he feels. Within weeks, the bug hops like clockwork from desk to desk until half the team is down for the count.

As people return to workplaces amid relaxing Covid protocols, poor absorption of Covid-19 reminders and cold and flu season on the way, the office bug is making an unwanted comeback.

Not too long ago, ReDell Atkinson recalls his colleagues taking extra precautions in the office with masking, social distancing, hand washing and staying home when sick.

But in recent weeks, “it’s been evident in the cabins: sneezing will happen in a domino effect, and you can tell people aren’t as quick to stay home as they used to be,” said Atkinson, 27. years, at CNBC Make It. “The precautions we used to take are no longer there.”

Cases of colds, flu, Covid could be serious this winter

There are already signs that this year’s cold and flu season could be bad: On October 14, the CDC reported early increases in seasonal flu activity. Hospitals across the country have reported an increase in cases of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, a common virus that causes lung infections.

The slight increase in RSV cases is a good indicator that “many respiratory viruses are circulating now,” says Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “Nobody can predict what will happen, but it is reasonable to be very worried” that respiratory tract infections will increase in late fall and winter, he says.

Meanwhile, he worries that the public health practices put forth during the pandemic are collapsing, that Americans will have less access to free Covid tests, and that companies won’t do more to protect workers through safety policies. improved sick days and ventilation systems.

Most Americans aren’t planning on getting a flu shot this season, two new omicron subvariants are spreading rapidly, and “the vast majority are behaving as if there were no pandemic,” said Swartzberg. “The same things we can do to prevent Covid are the same things that will prevent other respiratory tract infections.”

Possible symptoms of colds, flu and Covid

Common cold
Sore throat Runny nose
To cough To sneeze
Headache Aches
Fever or chills/feeling feverish
Cough Sore throat
Runny/stuffy nose Muscle/body pain
Headache Fatigue
Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children than adults.
Fever or chills Cough
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath New loss of taste or smell
Fatigue Muscle/body pain
Headache Sore throat
Congestion/runny nose Nausea Vomiting

Companies increase return-to-office and productivity warnings

The fall bugs coincide with workers facing increasing pressure to be back in the office, says Caroline Walsh, vice president of HR practice at Gartner.

In September, 36% of organizations required employees to be in the office at least three days a week, up from 25% in August, according to a Gartner survey of 240 HR managers – “even though our data shows that working remotely , for those who can, doesn’t negatively impact performance and culture,” says Walsh. Yet, “there’s more pressure to get people in, and it hits with the season. colds, flu and RSV”.

The same things we can do to prevent Covid are the same things that will prevent other respiratory tract infections.

Dr. Jean Swartberg

Clinical Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley School of Public Health

Recession fears could also cause workers to feel the need to report in sick. High inflation and a volatile stock market put pressure on organizations and productivity, especially as many try to end the year in a shaky economy, and “there is a temptation to push people to go all-in and to work until they can’t anymore,” says Walsh.

She’s also concerned that the pandemic lessons on wellness are fading: “In some ways, it’s ridiculous that we have to have this conversation,” she says. “You shouldn’t come to work sick. And the past two years should have taught us that. Some returns to normal are exciting, but going back to normal pressures to go to the office when sick is something I hoped to leave behind us.”

Working while sick does not help everyone

Showing up to work sick, or even moving from home, can be damaging on many levels.

For one, working instead of letting the body rest will only prolong your illness and your recovery, says Dr. Geeta Nayyar, chief medical officer at Salesforce.

“When you rest, your immune system is in a better position to fight off any infection, get better, and recover faster,” she says.

Some returns to normal are exciting, but returning to normal pressures to go to the office when sick is something I hoped to leave behind.

Caroline Walch

Vice President of HR Practice at Gartner

Coming to work sick can also put immunocompromised colleagues or their family members at risk of illness.

Productivity-wise, you’re unlikely to be at your best, and morale-wise, colleagues who show up sick “degrade the whole team,” Nayyar adds. “It shows that there is no possibility of resting when you need it.”

Bosses need to encourage sick days and really mean it

The most effective thing employers can do to keep their workforce healthy is to provide paid sick leave so people can stay home when they need to. But about 1 in 5 workers don’t have access to paid sick leave, and it’s an even bigger problem for low-wage workers.

And while granting sick time is one thing, it’s also important for bosses to take sick time for themselves and proactively encourage their team to do the same.

Walsh says if you’re a manager, Tactfully nudging your employee to go home doesn’t have to be awkward. Stick to simple questions: How are you? How are you? I noticed you were sniffling a bit at our last meeting – how’s it going?

If someone seems reluctant to take a break, “it’s helpful to find out what barriers are preventing that person from taking time off,” Walsh says. As a manager, see if there is anything you can do to reduce their workload or redistribute work among team members.

For junior employees, make it clear when workers can and should take sick or PTO leave, especially if you have unlimited policies. “New associates who have entered the workforce during the pandemic really have no idea of ​​the norms around when it’s okay to take time off,” Walsh says.

Underlying all of this is the need for psychological safety, she adds: “At the end of the day, workers need to know that they won’t be penalized for being absent.”

Atkinson says she’s grateful to work for a company with unlimited sick days and the ability to work from home when needed. It’s the least she can do to stay healthy, as well as her family members and teammates. “With everything going on, it’s irresponsible not to pay attention to others.”

She remembers her boss once telling her: Take a day for yourself. We receive you for the rest of the year. It helped her realize that if she shows up sick and does a bad job, it only exacerbates the situation and her illness, rather than staying home to recover and coming back feeling 100%.

“At the end of the day”, even if she takes a break, “the work will be done”.


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